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Why BJP is not nervous despite discontent among sullen allies

By Kumar Rakesh
March 09, 2018 23:22 IST
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Discontentment of allies may not look serious now, but the BJP needs to develop a better mechanism to deal with the allies ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019.


The Telugu Desam Party is fuming.

The Shiv Sena has long been a thorn in the flesh.

The People's Democratic Party in Kashmir is often at loggerheads, and Akalis too are sulking.


Such open show of discontent by allies should have rung loud alarm bells in the Bharatiya Janata Party, but the ruling party is far from looking jittery.

Many BJP leaders who spoke to PTI on condition of anonymity are of the belief that some of its trusted allies have become sullen because the BJP has grown from strength to strength across the nation, often at the cost of its partners like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

But the BJP is also secure in the knowledge that most of its allies are unlikely to quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance despite their tantrums.

Even the TDP, the most disgruntled of the bunch, went only so far.

While TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu announced the withdrawal of his two ministers from the central government, the party did not sever ties with the NDA.

It was a separation, not a divorce, as some called it.

Political observers, however, caution the BJP against complacency.

Manindra Nath Thakur, an associate professor at Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that the discontentment of allies may not look serious now, but the BJP needs to develop a better mechanism to deal with the allies ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

"I have a feeling that in 2019 the BJP will not get the kind of majority it has now, and it does not need an analyst to suggest so. BJP's highest strength is now and they will definitely need alliances in 2019. So to make them (allies) unhappy is not the way to go," he said.

The Shiv Sena, which long enjoyed an ideological brother status in the BJP family, has already sounded the bugle of rebellion by announcing its intention to fight the Lok Sabha elections independently.

Sanjay Raut, a party leader, said that TDP's decision -- ostensibly over the centre's refusal to give Andhra special status -- was expected.

He predicted that anger of more allies will spill out in the coming days and they will walk out of the NDA.

Earlier, when the ties between the TDP and the BJP soured, Naresh Gujaral of the Shiromani Akali Dal had advised the bigger party to not ride roughshod over its allies and to follow the ‘coalition dharma' practised by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who headed the first NDA government.

But times have changed.

The allies do not have the free rein they had under Vajpayee when the BJP depended on their support for survival, unlike now when it enjoys a majority on its own.

A BJP leader said Naidu as the NDA convener during the Vajpayee government enjoyed a lot of clout and was in a position to dictate terms to the BJP.

Now he is just another ally and the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its chief Amit Shah would not go out of the way placate any ally, he said.

As a BJP leader put it, unlike the political and executive flexibility the allies enjoyed in the first NDA government, now there is more accountability and stricter control. This is also cause of some heartburn, he said.

The BJP leadership believes that as long as the party remains electorally strong and controls the levers of government at the centre and in states, its allies will stick around.

The TDP's decision to remain a part of the NDA and not shut the door on the BJP is driven by this as it would not like to burn its bridges with a party which may come back to power in 2019, BJP sources said.

Andhra BJP chief K Hari Babu said a separation would also help his party expand its reach in a state where it has always been a marginal player.

In Maharashtra, the Sena would like to renegotiate the terms of its alliance with the BJP as it was always the big brother in their ties before being pushed far behind in the 2014 assembly polls.

Pointing out that the Sena remains part of the governments at the centre and in the state, a top BJP leader mocked the small party's decision to part ways in 2019, saying it was like an angry wife threatening her husband that she would leave him one year later.

A BJP ally which did walk out on it and joined hands with its rival is Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, who announced a tie-up with Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar.

With Janata Dal-United president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar now in the NDA, BJP leaders said there was little more they could offer to Manjhi as division of seats in the Lok Sabha polls among its existing allies will be a hard task.

However, political watchers believe brewing discontent among allies may come back to haunt the BJP if its performance in the next Lok Sabha polls falls short of expectations.

They pointed that it needs to sweep a state like Bihar if it has to come near to a repeat of its performance in the last polls.

And loss of allies, however minor, to a strong opposition like the RJD may harm it.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP chief Amit Shah pose for a photograph at the Parliament during the second phase of the budget session in New Delhi. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo 

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